This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Part XXXIV
Every day on Daily Readers' Book Club we offer an article length section of a book until that book is done. We are currently reading F. Scott Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise. This book will have 106 parts.
UNDER THE ARC-LIGHT
Then tragedy's emerald eyes glared suddenly at Amory over the edge of June. On the night after his ride to Lawrenceville a crowd sallied to New York in quest of adventure, and started back to Princeton about twelve o'clock in two machines. It had been a gay party and different stages of sobriety were represented. Amory was in the car behind; they had taken the wrong road and lost the way, and so were hurrying to catch up.
It was a clear night and the exhilaration of the road went to Amory's head. He had the ghost of two stanzas of a poem forming in his mind. ...
So the gray car crept nightward in the dark and there was no life
stirred as it went by.... As the still ocean paths before the
shark in starred and glittering waterways, beauty-high, the
moon-swathed trees divided, pair on pair, while flapping
nightbirds cried across the air....
A moment by an inn of lamps and shades, a yellow inn under a
yellow moon--then silence, where crescendo laughter fades... the
car swung out again to the winds of June, mellowed the shadows
where the distance grew, then crushed the yellow shadows into
They jolted to a stop, and Amory peered up, startled. A woman was standing beside the road, talking to Alec at the wheel. Afterward he remembered the harpy effect that her old kimono gave her, and the cracked hollowness of her voice as she spoke:
"You Princeton boys?"
"Well, there's one of you killed here, and two others about dead."
"Look!" She pointed and they gazed in horror. Under the full light of a roadside arc-light lay a form, face downward in a widening circle of blood.
They sprang from the car. Amory thought of the back of that head--that hair--that hair... and then they turned the form over.
"It's Dick--Dick Humbird!"
"Feel his heart!"
Then the insistent voice of the old crone in a sort of croaking triumph:
"He's quite dead, all right. The car turned over. Two of the men that weren't hurt just carried the others in, but this one's no use."
Amory rushed into the house and the rest followed with a limp mass that they laid on the sofa in the shoddy little front parlor. Sloane, with his shoulder punctured, was on another lounge. He was half delirious, and kept calling something about a chemistry lecture at 8:10.
"I don't know what happened," said Ferrenby in a strained voice. "Dick was driving and he wouldn't give up the wheel; we told him he'd been drinking too much--then there was this damn curve--oh, my God!..." He threw himself face downward on the floor and broke into dry sobs.
The doctor had arrived, and Amory went over to the couch, where some one handed him a sheet to put over the body. With a sudden hardness, he raised one of the hands and let it fall back inertly. The brow was cold but the face not expressionless. He looked at the shoe-laces--Dick had tied them that morning. He had tied them--and now he was this heavy white mass. All that remained of the charm and personality of the Dick Humbird he had known--oh, it was all so horrible and unaristocratic and close to the earth. All tragedy has that strain of the grotesque and squalid--so useless, futile... the way animals die.... Amory was reminded of a cat that had lain horribly mangled in some alley of his childhood.
"Some one go to Princeton with Ferrenby."
Amory stepped outside the door and shivered slightly at the late night wind--a wind that stirred a broken fender on the mass of bent metal to a plaintive, tinny sound.
Next day, by a merciful chance, passed in a whirl. When Amory was by himself his thoughts zigzagged inevitably to the picture of that red mouth yawning incongruously in the white face, but with a determined effort he piled present excitement upon the memory of it and shut it coldly away from his mind.
Isabelle and her mother drove into town at four, and they rode up smiling Prospect Avenue, through the gay crowd, to have tea at Cottage. The clubs had their annual dinners that night, so at seven he loaned her to a freshman and arranged to meet her in the gymnasium at eleven, when the upper classmen were admitted to the freshman dance. She was all he had expected, and he was happy and eager to make that night the centre of every dream. At nine the upper classes stood in front of the clubs as the freshman torchlight parade rioted past, and Amory wondered if the dress-suited groups against the dark, stately backgrounds and under the flare of the torches made the night as brilliant to the staring, cheering freshmen as it had been to him the year before.
Image courtesy of Peter Alfred Hess.